The end of an era
“Firing the main thrusters!” repeated Jason, running his fingers over the control panel.
The massive Equinox shuddered and vibrated as the main engines came to life after being dormant for so long, threatening to tear the already damaged ship apart. Jason had applied full power without bringing the engines up slowly at the risk of serious damage, but under the circumstances, he felt it was a risk worth taking, if they were to stand any chance of survival at all.
Meanwhile, Jason’s call had been heeded and star ships were being scrambled quickly in response to the deadly threat. The same scene was being repeated at all fifteen strategic bases spread out across Carac, but not quickly enough.
Both Vince & Jason knew that their fate rested solely in their own hands as help would not arrive in time.
“We definitely need to install ground and satellite based weapons,” said Jason. “Remind me to make that happen.”
“If we survive this,” added Vince.
“Of course we’ll survive,” said Jasmine. “I have the utmost confidence in my husband. There isn’t anything he can’t do.”
Jason managed a smile in spite of their situation, hearing her words.
“Here we go!” he said, directing the thrusters and anti gravity drives for a vertical takeoff.
A second blast erupted just in front of the Equinox, just as they began moving skyward, slowly at first and accelerating at a tremendous velocity. The force was enough to keep everyone pressed down into their seats causing Jasmine to let out an involuntary yell.
“Sorry,” she said, placing her hand over her mouth.
In almost no time at all, they were out in space.
For now, Jason had set a course to take them away from the attacking ship.
“Bart!” instructed Jason, “Bring our atomic disruptor online and target that ship.”
“What atomic disruptor?” asked Vince, clearly surprised at this term. He was not aware of any weapon by that name.
“No response from the disruptor,” replied Bart. “It must have sustained damage from the attack.”
“This is not good,” said Jason to himself.
“Bart, target that ship with any available weapon that we have.”
Another shudder, the worst one so far caused Jason to experience some disorientation. He was afraid that his seat was going to be ripped away from the floor. His head cleared quickly and he realised they were hit.
“We’ve taken a direct hit,” announced Bart. “The main shield is failing.”
“Get us out of here Jason,” screamed Vince, his voice wavering. “I’m not ready to die.”
Jason realised that the only way out was to jump to light speed, and fast. The pursuing vessel was extremely quick and they had no chance of out running their attacker with conventional engines.
Another direct hit! The ship shook and shuddered even more, threatening to come apart.
Jason cast a quick glance at Jasmine who was being extremely brave considering the situation.
“We’ve lost main shields,” reported Bart.
Jason realised that a jump to light speed without the main shield was foolhardy.
“Think Jason, think!” he said to himself.
The cracks were beginning to show in his calm demeanour.
“Now firing the rear plasma cannon,” said Bart. A second later, “Direct hit, but we haven’t done any damage.”
“Incoming transmission from the alien vessel,” reported Vince. Audio and video. I’m transferring it to the main viewer.”
“Ah, the infamous Jason King,” said the large man who was now visible on the screen. His uniform was unmistakably United Earth Government military.
Jason just glared at the screen silently.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” continued the man, “And lay down the terms of your surrender.”
“Who are you?” asked Jason.
“I am Captain Pretorius, captain of the United Earth Federation star ship Raptor. Cease fire and surrender immediately. You will be boarded and taken into custody. Resist and I will have no choice but to open fire.”
“May I have five minutes to make a decision?” asked Jason, trying to keep a straight face.
The question seemed to amuse Captain Pretorius. “You have two minutes,” he replied with a smirk.
“Kill the link,” Jason motioned to Vince.
“We have no choice but to surrender or we’ll certainly be destroyed if don’t,” he replied as soon as the link was terminated.
“I’d rather die than return to Earth as a prisoner,” said Jason defiantly.
“Then we will die together,” said the Princess. “Death before dishonour is the code of the knight.”
Jason couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride at her words.
“None of us will be dying anytime soon,” said Jason addressing everyone on the bridge.
“The fleet from Carac will be here very shortly. Their shields make them virtually invisible to most scanners, so the enemy won’t see them coming. We just have to buy a little time.”
“Oh Jason,” said Jasmine. “I knew you had a plan in mind.”
To himself Jason thought, “Let’s hope this actually works out.”
“Incoming transmission,” reported Vince.
“Well?” asked Captain Pretorius who was once again visible on the main view screen.
“We surrender,” said Jason. “I’m bringing the ship about, in preparation for boarding.”
The Equinox slowly turned around and came into position alongside the Raptor so that they were facing opposite directions. Jason couldn’t help but marvel at the design of this Earth vessel. She was a real work of art, from an engineering perspective.
“The shuttle bay door is open,” reported Jason. “You may send your boarding party.”
To himself he thought, “The fleet should have been here by now. What’s taking so long?”
They watched as a little shuttle left the Raptor, heading for their shuttle bay.
“I’ve changed my mind,” said Jason to Captain Pretorius suddenly, catching him by surprise.
“What?” he asked as Jason motioned Vince to cut the transmission.
Everyone on the bridge was taken by surprise at Jason’s reaction. A second later, the Equinox was accelerating towards Carac.
“Are you crazy, Jason?” screamed Vince.
He didn’t reply. He couldn’t let anything distract him from what he was doing.
“Bart, fire at them. Keep firing”
Jason hoped the plasma blasts would slow down the Raptor, even if it was just for a moment as every second counted. He had to buy them a little more time.
“They’ve turned around and are in pursuit,” warned Vince. “We’re going to.”
The Equinox shuddered and altered course abruptly as the Raptor’s primary weapon fired a direct hit.
“We’ve been hit,” reported Bart. “The left thruster is destroyed and our shields have failed completely.”
Jason could barely hear what Bart had said because his ears were still ringing from the loud explosion.
A sickening feeling took hold in the pit of his stomach as he realised they were going to crash onto Carac’s surface, if they were not destroyed first.
“There’s the fleet, finally,” said Vince drawing everyone’s attention to the main view screen, “But it may be too late for us now.”
The Equinox’s trajectory combined with the gravitational pull of the planet caused her to speed up very quickly and enter the upper atmosphere at a sharp angle. The front of the ship could be seen glowing red hot while the temperature inside the ship climbed rapidly, reminding Jason of his nightmare.
“We’re coming in too steep,” screamed Jason above the din. “We have to slow down or we’ll burn up in the atmosphere.”
Bart and Jason frantically worked their consoles, trying to squeeze as much power out of the remaining thruster.
The ground approached rapidly. Jason tried to aim the ship towards the unpopulated desert to minimise casualties.
“Brace for impact!”
The Equinox came down hard and fast, still glowing red hot from the atmospheric friction. She struck the ground and bounced off, leaving behind a crater. Bits of the ship broke away and flew off in various directions, amidst a huge cloud of red sand.
She struck the ground a second time and continued moving forward, leaving a deep gash in the desert sand, heading towards a small rock formation.
The mangled wreckage of twisted metal finally came to a stop after crashing into the rock formation, uprooting it completely.
An explosion followed by a second one, near the rear caused more debris to be ejected high into the atmosphere. Large tongues of orange flames licked the sides of the hull resulting in a thick black plume of smoke which rose high into the sky, marking the final resting place of the once great ship.
The Equinox had flown her last flight.
“Fire at will!”
Captain Pretorius had given the order, even though their situation was beginning to look dire.
A fleet of twenty star ships had moved in to intercept the Raptor, with no warning at all.
The hapless Captain didn’t get to see his order materialise. The lead attack vessel from the fleet fired a purple beam and all sorts of warnings came up on all the displays on the bridge.
“Captain, we’ve lost one engine as well as the rear weapon array and we have a major hull breach,” reported Brent Lawson from the engineering console. “We have men adrift in space!”
“But how?” began Pretorius. “Weren’t the shields up?”
“That weapon cut through our shields like a hot knife through butter!” exclaimed Patterson, desperately trying to get at least one of the weapons back online.
“Captain, we’re being hailed,” cut in Storm.
“A good captain goes down with his ship, and we shall fight to the bitter end! Ignore the hails, and ram that ship if you have to!” responded Captain Pretorius.
The Raptor limped along on one engine towards the lead attack vessel, on a collision course, but another blast of the purple beam saw to it that the Raptor was reduced to nothing but space debris within a few seconds.
Meanwhile, Jason’s vision slowly returned. His eyes stung from the smoke which had accumulated in the room. He tried to stand up, but couldn’t.
“Where am I?” he thought to himself feeling disorientated and confused. He tried to stand up for a second time before he realised that he was strapped to the captain’s chair on board the remains of the Equinox bridge.
“Oh no!” he exclaimed. “Jasmine? Jasmine, are you ok?” he asked fearfully, turning to his left. His view of the navigator’s station was obscured by the smoke and the pile of debris next to him.
He coughed from the acrid smoke and called out to her again with his hoarse voice. There was no response.
He heard Vince groan loudly to his right.
“Vince? Vince?” he called out. “Are you ok?”
“I’m hurt, Jason,” came the reply. “Help Jasmine first.”
Jason tasted something salty and realised that he was bleeding from his face. He forced his hands to undo the safety harness which held him into the chair feeling white hot pain all over his body.
Finally free of his chair he fell to the floor. His legs refused to carry his weight and protested with more pain when he tried to stand up. He fell to the floor again, hard.
“Arrg!” he exclaimed as his shoulder made painful contact with the metal floor.
Forcing himself to ignore the pain, he crawled around the debris towards the navigator’s station, hoping against hope that Jasmine was alive.
He got up on his knees and looked at Jasmine who was still strapped in her seat. Her head was turned at an impossible angle and her once beautiful face was now covered in blood.
“No, no, no, no,” reacted Jason. “No, please be ok,” he mouthed as he undid her seat harness and got his arms around her.
Common sense told him that her neck was broken, and her injuries were mortal, yet he continued to gently shake her, almost expecting her to open her eyes and smile at him.
“Wake up. Wake up, Jasmine,” he pleaded. “We’re on the ground now.”
The tears mixed with his blood ran down his cheeks, as the reality of this terrible event took hold.
“Nooooooo!” he cried, cradling her lifeless body in his arms. “You can’t leave me. Not now. Not when we’ve accomplished so much together,” he sobbed.
He gently caressed her face.
“I’m so sorry, Jasmine. This is all my fault,” he sobbed. “I will never forgive myself.”
“She’s gone,” said Vince, patting him on his arm, startling him. “We have to get off the ship quickly, before it explodes,” he continued.
Jason turned around to face Vince.
“She’s dead,” he sobbed.
Jason had never experienced heartache and grief as he did right now. It consumed him. He felt hopeless, lost and shocked, and so many other emotions he couldn’t put words to.
“Don’t leave me, Jasmine.” he whispered.
“Jason, we have to get to safety,” prompted Vince. “There isn’t anything we can do for her now. I’m sorry.”
If Jason could, he would have gladly given up his own life, so that Jasmine may be spared, but it was not to be.
With all the power and technology at his disposal he was still powerless to grant her back her precious life.
He kept looking back at her lifeless corpse as Vince helped him out of the room.
*The story continues in Equinox: The return to Earth
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